Sunday, June 22, 2008

"I come not to praise Caesar..."

...actually, I do.

I popped into Julius Caesar at the Shakespeare Theatre Company today, to see the first half of their current Roman Rep. (I saw Antony and Cleopatra on its opening night, about which I have already blogged.)

I am not at all surprised that my buddy Kurt Rhoads, who assumed the role of Marc Antony just last week, has slipped seamlessly into the part. (I don't know why, but my friends are always the best actors in their shows. It's a mystery...). Kurt had been greatly underused in his previous roles in the Rep, but he surely shines now, especially in the uber-famous funeral sequence, as Antony simultaneously eulogizes Caesar, and euthanizes the reputation of Brutus. This long speech must rank as the second most famous monologue in all of Shakespeare, right behind Hamlet's "To Be or Not To Be." NOBODY wants to be saddled with a speech so familiar that an audience can easily tune it out. But Kurt's performance was full of immediacy and realism, and we quickly forgot that we had heard the speech dozens of times before.

That's a fine actor.

Aubrey Deeker, whom I don't claim as a buddy but is an actor who always impresses me, is mostly unseen in this show, but his brief appearances as Octavius set up his much larger presence in Antony and Cleopatra.

Director David Muse has done his best to enlarge the influence of Caesar in the play, and Dan Kremer plays the title character with arrogance sufficient enough to turn his friends into his enemies. But structurally, Shakespeare never meant Julius Caesar to be about Julius Caesar, as he is dispatched in the middle of the play. The piece is meant to be dominated by Antony, Brutus, and Cassius, and this production fulfills that obligation.

Tom Hammond brought true heroism to the role of Brutus, and Scott Parkinson was a less sleazy Cassius than others I have seen. I enjoyed both their performances very much.

I can only find a few faults with this production. One is its length. Caesar can easily be abridged, but here, I found my mind wandering on occasion. The scenes with the conspirators seemed to brood an awful lot, rather than display the dynamic urgency with which they are usually played. I also had some trouble with the fight choreography, specifically the battle sequences in Act II. I have a personal dislike of stage fighting in slo-mo, and feel it really only works if the stage is full of actors participating. Here, a handful of soldiers crept on, in dim light, and displayed such stylized movements that I was completely removed from the reality of the moment.

I was quite taken with the final scene of Julius Caesar, which clearly set up the future importance of Antony and Octavius (who ultimately became the first Roman Emperor, Augustus) as the rulers they would become in the second part of the Roman Rep.

And of course, I'm thrilled that Kurt has this terrific opportunity to really show off his chops...

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